Why won’t Billy write?
Maybe he’s right – and we’re the ones that are crazy!
It’s been 20 long years since Billy Joel released a new pop/rock album. He was just 43 years old when he began watching his wheels go ’round and ’round. John Lennon did it eight years sooner than Billy.
Little did Joel’s millions of fans expect that 1993’s River of Dreams would be the the last contemporary long player the Bronx-born piano man would ever record – at least to date. Nothing new is expected from him in the future.
Of course, after 40 hit singles in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and a half-dozen Grammy Awards what does he have left to prove? Nothing. Sure, it’s tough to have much of an appetite after that rich buffet of success, so why bother with the new stuff?
Beginning in 1995, Joel toured occasionally with Elton John on their mega-successful “Face to Face” Tours that did booming business everywhere. But even that stopped a couple of years ago. Why?
Sir Elton has said that Joel needed more help with his long-standing battle with the bottle. Joel said he quit performing with his fellow piano man because he was sick of playing the same songs every night.
2013 TOUR PLANS DEPT. Joel has only one tour date planned for this year, which is April 27 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Only a single show? Gee, I guess it’s hard to find fault with a guy just because he wants breakfast at Brennan’s.
As with many of his contemporaries, Joel does not have the high vocal range he once possessed. For many years, he has been forced to sing his hits in lower keys than the original recordings. Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, Elton John and countless others have had to do that, too.
But as his stirring performance during the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy benefit proved, his voice is still somewhat strong and his immense piano abilities intact.
Incidentally, I find that it’s quite ironic that every male lead in the long-running Broadway smash and international “jukebox musical” Movin’ Out can sing Joel’s songs better than he can these days. Of course, those guys are some 30 years younger than he is!
Regardless, Joel has been missing in the studio ever since Bill Clinton’s first term in office. He did dabble with a classical project Fantasies and Delusions in 2001 but that probably was more of an homage to his father, who was a fine pianist in his own right.
But other than a 2007 single All My Life, Joel’s fans have had to resort to spinning his classic albums that include 52nd Street, The Stranger, The Nylon Curtain, and An Innocent Man. The only “new” Joel albums have been “Legacy Reissues” of his albums, complete with outtakes and demos along with numerous live and greatest hits packages.
Curiously, Joel has no control over these reissues because of contract loopholes. He made some very poor business agreements in the early part of his career that will haunt him the rest of his life.
WANT TO BUY HIS SONGS AGAIN? DEPT. His newest aural regurgitation is She’s Got a Way, a collection of previously released love songs just in time for Valentine’s Day. The 18-song collection is an excellent sampler of his work that includes obscurities (Travelin’ Prayer, This Night, Nocturne) as well as a few hits such as Just the Way You Are, She’s Always a Woman, and the stirring This is the Time.
The album, which Joel has already publicly dissed in the media, also includes his original version of Shameless, the tune from his ’89 album Storm Front that Garth Brooks took to the top spot on the country charts in 1992.
From an artistic standpoint, it’s easy to find fault in yet another repackaging of Joel’s music. But to a casual or first-time listener it just might be the impetus for them to check out the album on which it originally appeared. I’ve bought a lot of albums that way.
She’s Got a Way is an excellent “gateway” disc to the music of one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation. Besides, it gives one a fine addition in which to give to their significant other on what’s supposed to be the most romantic day of the year.
However, since Joel has had three failed marriages (including one with his “Uptown Girl” Christie Brinkley), maybe this disc would be the perfect Valentine for him to give to someone someday.
For now, it seems as though Joel has lost his muse, ironically becoming “The Stranger” he wrote about all those years – and lost loves – ago.